1762 - French expedition against Newfoundland

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1762 - French expedition against Newfoundland

The campaign lasted from May to September 1762

Description of Events

At the beginning of 1762, Commodore Spry cruised with a British squadron of observation off Brest, until he was relieved by Commodore Robert Man; and Commodore Lord Howe lay in Basque Road until he was relieved by Commodore Peter Denis. Admiral Holburne commanded at Portsmouth; Commodore John Moore, in the Downs, and Commodore James Young, in the Channel.

On the French side, M. Charles-Henri-Louis d'Arsac de Ternay was chosen to lead a secret expedition against the British-controlled island of Newfoundland. Ternay's instructions were to take and hold the island and, if possible, to attack Louisbourg, then in British hands.

On May 2, French troops embarked aboard La Garonne (26).

On May 8, Ternay took advantage of the large withdrawal of British troops to the West Indies, of the defenceless condition of Newfoundland, and of a fog in the Channel, to run through the British blockade of Brest.

Ternay's flotilla consisted of 2 ships of the line, 1 frigate and 1 flute:

  • Le Robuste (74), Captain Charles-Henri-Louis d'Arsac de Ternay
  • L'Éveillé (64), Captain Chevalier de Monteil
  • La Licorne (32), Captain Cillart de Surville
  • La Garonne (26), Sutton de Closnard

This flotilla transported 896 troops under the Comte Joseph-Louis-Bernard de Cléron d'Haussonville:

Among the sailors there were also an anti-English party of 161 Irishmen. Ternay hoped to use them as the nucleus of a full battalion which he intended to recruit among the Irish fishermen of Newfoundland. The fleet under Sir Edward Hawke and the Duke of York went in pursuit but missed Ternay who crossed the Atlantic.

On May 11, on its way, Ternay's flotilla fell in with three combined convoys of great value, which it might easily have taken had it not preferred the ulterior object of the expedition, and had it not been deterred by the bold front offered to it by Captain Joshua Rowley of the Superb (60) who had with him the Gosport (44), Captain John Jervis, and the Danae (38), Captain Henry Martin. The capture of this convoy would have done Great Britain far more damage at that moment than the capture of Newfoundland.

On his way, Ternay captured and burnt two British merchantmen.

On May 29, Ternay captured a third British merchantmen which he included into his small flotilla.

On June 23, Ternay's small flotilla arrived at Bay Bulls in Newfoundland, hoisting British colours to avoid giving alarm.

On June 24, Ternay landed 750 men at Bay Bulls. These troops then marched on St. John's. Captain Thomas Graves, governor of the island, who lay at Placentia in the Antelope (54), at once sent news of the French descent to Commodore Lord Colville at Halifax.

On June 27, the British garrison being only 100 men strong could offer no resistance, and Fort William was accordingly surrendered without resistance.

Ternay then supervised the destruction of St. John's fishing stages and fishing fleet (460 vessels of all sizes).

On July 15, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander-in-chief in North America, was informed of the capture of Newfoundland by a small French force. He immediately decided to recapture the island and appointed his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel William Amherst, at the head of the planned expedition.

Till the end of July, nothing was known of the raid on Newfoundland in Great Britain when orders were despatched to Colville on the North American station to see to it, and Captain Hugh Palliser with 3 ships of the line was sent to reinforce him.

Owing to the efforts Amherst had made for the expedition against Havana, no troops were available except those in the garrisons of Nova Scotia which took some time to assemble. Finally, the British relief squadron consisted of 7 vessels. About 1,500 men (British regulars as well as Provincial troops) from the garrisons of New York, Halifax, and Louisbourg embarked abord these vessels.

Meanwhile, Colville sailed to the relief of Newfoundland with his flagship and a frigate and joined Graves.

On August 20, Colville reached Placentia and, after landing some of his marines to strengthen the garrison, he sailed with Graves for St. John's to blockade Ternay. As yet he had no troops, and could do little but prevent further depredations.

On August 25, M. de Ternay found himself blockaded in St. John's by Colville's squadron.

On September 7, the relief squadron sailed from Louisbourg and joined Colville's squadron off St. John's.

On September 11, the relief squadron under Lieutenant-Colonel Amherst reached Colville. Graves had a plan of action ready which Colville at once adopted as better than his own.

On September 12, the British relief force was sighted by the French at St. John's.

On September 13, Amherst landed his troops unopposed near Torbay, 16 km north of St. John's.

On September 15, the French were driven back into Fort William. Lieutenant-Colonel Amherst made his final arrangements for attacking the place.

In the night of September 15 to 16, the British blockading ships were driven from their station by a westerly gale. M. de Ternay, seeing that all was lost, seized the opportunity, slipped his cables and, under cover of a dense fog, towed out with his boats, stole quietly past Colville, and was far away beyond pursuit before the fog lifted. He had not brought his ships out of the Villaine, he said, to take such a place as St. John's, and he was determined to save them or make Colville pay dear for their capture. After his departure, the condition of the French land force was, of course, hopeless.

By good luck Ternay just missed the superior squadron of Palliser, arriving from England.

On September 18, before the arrival of Palliser's squadron, the Comte d'Haussonville and his troops capitulated as prisoners of war. British losses did not exceed 50 men, and the captured French garrison numbered 600. However, British estimates of the damage to the Newfoundland fisheries ran to £1 million.

On September 22, the British squadron captured the François-Louis who was sailing towards St John’s with reinforcements of 93 men.

Ternay, after being chased off the coast of France by two British divisions, was forced to take refuge in the Spanish harbour of La Corunna.

On January 28 1763, Ternay finally reached Brest.


This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 239, 250, 251
  • Corbett, Julian S.; England in the Seven Years' War – A Study in Combined Strategy, Vol II; New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907; p. 324
  • Fortescue, J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, p. 544

Other sources

Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online – Arsac de Ternay, Charles-Henri-Louis d’

Visme, André de: Terre-Neuve 1762 – Dernier combat aux portes de la Nouvelle-France, BNQ, 2005